BURNING BUSH: A Fire History of Australia
By Stephen J. Pyne, Holt, New York, 1991
520 pages, illustrated, $27.95
Review by Deirdre Cerkanowicz 
     It is the end of the summer, prime fire season for California, and we 
already have had a score of costly wild fires. While California and the West 
get their share of news coverage, America certainly doesn't have the monopoly
on wildfires. Stephen Pyne's, Burning Bush: a Fire History of Australia, is 
an almost encyclopedic volume of the ecology and history of fires in our 
neighbor down under, Australia.
     His chilling descriptions of the fire-loving properties of Eucalyptus 
trees made me want to ban them from the state. Eucalyptus seem almost 
diabolically designed, not only to survive intense brush fires, but to 
thrive, and to even make conditions perfect for the creation of fires. We in
California know well the thick resinous leaves, the branches that drop like
kindling, and the strips of paper like bark that shred and fall in chaotic
piles around the trees making movement difficult.
     Halfway through the book I began to wonder if this ancient species of
trees from down under were not part of a science fiction plot about dangerous 
plant-like beings with a tradition eons old, taking over a younger  more 
genteel culture. (What did possess Edward W. Scripps to import all those 
Eucalypti?) It sounds a bit melodramatic, and that's not exactly what Pyne 
says but it is close to the truth.
     The author is an expert on fire fighting and has written a handbook for 
fighting brush fires, as well as Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter's Season at 
the Grand Canyon, and interestingly enough The Ice: A Journey to Antarctica. 
In addition to learning about the evolutionary conditions that created the 
Eucalyptus, the reader will learn about the history of Australia from the 
pre-colonial days when the Aboriginal people "farmed" the land with fire, 
using techniques similar to those that California's original native people 
used to guarantee an abundance of acorns and to provide open grassland for 
     There are good descriptions of "Mediterranean climate", and references 
to  other Brush-fire prone areas of the world. Pyne also delves into denial 
that allows people to choose to live, build and rebuild in fire prone areas.
Burning Bush  may not be to every oneUs taste -- it is a bit dry in parts (no
pun intended) and could use a good glossary for those of us who are not 
botanists -- but if you are interested in the ecology of California or
Australia -- especially as it relates to manUs impact on plant ecosystems --
this is the book to read.
     For those involved in city planning or fire protection in the 
urban/brush interface areas so prone to fire here in California, this book 
should be required reading.